It's remarkable to survey the lives of outstanding people and notice how they finished their life-races. Some people live great lives and achieve great things but don't finish well (note King Hezekiah). Others, like the Apostle Paul, start off their race being legalistic and destructive. Despite Paul's Damascus Road experience it seems he was still a prickly character. He fell out with his mentor. He offended his travelling companions. His relationships with several ministry colleagues became so tense that wanted nothing further to do with and did all they could to slander him. Paul's return fire is recorded in the annuls of Scripture for all to read. But we observe something extremely unusual about this mysterious man. The older he became, the sweeter and softer he became. After beatings, betrayals, abondonments and slandering, he had every reason to be a grumpy old man.
Theologians have noticed something else progressing throughout Paul's as well. In his earlier writings to the churches Paul refers to our Lord most often as "Jesus" or "Jesus Christ". Occasionally he adds "Lord" to these references.
For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
But in Paul's later writings, he is more inclined to refer to our Saviour as "Christ Jesus" and he ascribes to our Saviour - "Christ Jesus our Lord".
¶ I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service"
First Timothy 1:12
As Paul got older it seems that his reverence for Christ grew. But something else was happening in the heart of Paul. In the earlier stages of his ministry he describes himself as-
But toward the end of his life he talks about himself in these terms-Indeed, I consider that I am not in the least inferior to these super-apostles.
Second Corinthians 11:5
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.
First Timothy 1:15
From "Jesus" to "Christ Jesus our Lord". From "super-apostle to "foremost sinner". I can't help but think that these two trends are connected. The older Paul got the more he grew in his depth of relationship with Christ Jesus our Lord. As the depth of this relationship grew he invariably became increasingly aware of his true position before the One he would finally describe as King of kings and Lord of lords (1Tim. 6:15 - which he will display at the proper time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords).
But there's something else that might be lost on the casual reader of Paul's divinely inspired writings. Toward the end of Paul's life is more often than not in imprisoned because he had preached that Christ Jesus was Lord. In his much earlier epistle to the Corinthians he lists some of the trials and adversities he had been forced to endure.
beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger;
Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death.
Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea;
Second Corinthians 6:5; 11:23, 25
Yet writing from his unsanitised prison cell to his protegé Timothy, he makes just a fleeting reference to the horror of his current predicament without complaint -
¶ for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound!
Second Timothy 2:9
Something transformational has happened in the heart of Paul. His estimation of Christ has grown immeasurably. As you get older, is yours? Secondly, he estimation of himself became more accurate. To the spiritually unfamiliar, it might sound like he suffered from an increasing lack of self-esteem and was sorely in need of a boost. But to those familiar with descent of maturing discipleship, it is perfectly inline with what happens with all who grow in their surrender to the Lord of Glory. For Paul, his lowering estimation of himself was not a bad thing or even a thing to be corrected, it was a fruit of his commitment to lay his down and "decrease" so that Jesus would "increase" in his life (John 3:30).
One final thing to note about this not-so-grumpy-old-man. Increasingly toward the end of his life he looked for younger men to encourage and strengthen. At a stage of life when many embattled, heart-broken, older men are becoming bitter, withdrawn, overly nostalgic, and grumpy, Paul was becoming a clearer reflection of Christ to those starting out on their journeys with Christ Jesus our Lord. Paul finished his race well. And when we all near our finishing line, I hope that we too will have held the Lord of Glory and been transformed by His infinite beauty into people who reveal to the world, Christ Jesus our Lord.